Venezuela is a conduit for Russian propaganda, says disinformation watchdog

·2 min read

Venezuela has become a conduit for Russian Spanish-language propaganda in Latin America, according to a media watchdog that is releasing a new tool that seeks to dispel misinformation in the country and region.

On Thursday, NewsGuard, an organization created by journalists to monitor disinformation and assess the credibility of news and information websites, launched a Venezuela misinformation tracker to debunk what it says are widely shared conspiracies in the Americas.

The New York-based organization says the project is the result of six months of monitoring, and is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State Global Engagement Center, though NewsGuard says it maintained complete editorial control of the project.

NewsGuard is led by journalist Steven Brill and by Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

NewsGuard says it began monitoring dozens of websites in February, when Russia invaded Ukraine. The organization followed 60 websites throughout Latin America, including Spanish publications operated by authoritarian governments such as Russia and Iran. NewsGuard says 35 of the websites — 21 of them state-owned or pro-government — were based in Venezuela.

NewsGuard, which tracked the origins of the content, found that the top narratives uncovered by its research first appeared in RT en Español and Sputnik Mundo, both Russian state media outlets.

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The tracker debunks falsehoods about the Russia-Ukraine war, including claims that Ukraine had plans to deport their Russian-speaking population, that former national security adviser John Bolton confirmed the U.S. planned and carried out the 2019 attempted government takeover in Venezuela and that the U.S. gave the late-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez cancer, according to NewsGuard.

“About half of the top-10 narratives that we identified and chronicled for the public were a mischaracterization of either official comments or they were a complete mischaracterization given the lack of information that came out from events,” Chiara Vercellone, an analyst and reporter for NewsGuard said.

NewsGuard found that Russian disinformation often starts by gaining popularity in Venezuela before moving to the rest of Latin America, according to Vercellone. She said researchers also saw these narratives in Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, Chile, Peru and Honduras. Cuba had the most news outlets that spread misinformation, according to Vercellone.

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“We know that misinformation in Latin America is a problem affecting many citizens in the region, so it’s nothing new,” Vercellone said of the focus of the project. “But it’s a step forward to acknowledge the lack of trustworthy information that so many are constantly exposed to.”

This article is part of a project on misinformation in Spanish-language media by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and researchers at Florida International University. It is funded by Journalism Funding Partners, which received support from the Knight Disinformation Fund at The Miami Foundation. The Miami Herald retains editorial control of the content.